Rogue traders who stole Colburn 89-year-old’s £24,000 life savings jailed

A gang of rogue traders who stole the £24,000 life savings of a Colburn 89-year-old have been jailed for more than 17 years.

Teesside Crown Court heard how the gang exploited elderly and vulnerable victims across the North of England.

David Mason, 41, of Harlech Court, Ingleby Barwick, and his fellow defendants, Gary Russell, 45, of no fixed abode, Christopher Scott, 43, who is currently an inmate of HMP Holme House after being convicted of unrelated offences, and Adam Godley, 33, of Stockton, were sentenced on Friday.

The gang received the following sentences:

  • David Mason was sentenced to a total of eight years and eight months, with a term of five years and eight months for conspiring to defraud and a further three years for perverting the course of justice.
  • Gary Russell was sentenced to five years and three months for conspiring to defraud.
  • Christopher Scott was sentenced to 20 months for conspiring to defraud.
  • Adam Godley was sentenced to 20 months for conspiring to defraud.

The court heard how Mason even faked symptoms of a brain tumour in an attempt to escape justice.

They were caught after North Yorkshire County Council’s trading standards officers conducted a complex inquiry including a prolonged period of surveillance work alongside police officers to collate evidence that accused Mason had created a web of lies after he feigned symptoms of the tumour.

Mason’s deceit led to protracted delays in court hearings and caused a first trial to be abandoned in September 2021 after seven weeks, ramping up the stress on victims who had been called to give evidence – including one pensioner who is aged 94.

During a hearing on April 29, Mason admitted perverting the court of justice between September 7, 2021, and April 1 this year.

He was arrested after law enforcement officers conducted covert observations and established Mason had been running a second hand car dealership, together with his wife, since the first trial collapsed.

Mason and the three other defendants pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud a total of 22 householders out of tens of thousands of pounds by carrying out shoddy repairs to homes between September 1, 2017, and October 18, 2018 – or not even performing the work at all but still charging the victims.

Each of the defendants was also given an indefinite Criminal Behaviour Order, which effectively bans them from cold-calling anyone in the future.

The offences were carried out at properties in North Yorkshire, York, Cleveland and Durham, and one of the victims, an 89-year-old man from Colburn, was driven to his bank nine times and made to withdraw his life savings in cash totalling £23,950.

The campaign of exploitation against the often vulnerable and elderly victims saw the gang of fraudsters glean at least £51,735 from their offending.

Passing sentence, Judge Jonathan Carroll praised the work of North Yorkshire County Council’s trading standards team for pursuing such a “complex investigation”, and also branded Mason’s symptoms as “complete and utter fiction”.

Sentencing the defendants, Judge Carroll added: “This was a tragedy for elderly and vulnerable victims who were ruthlessly exploited, and the enterprise was established from the outset to take every penny available for extraction.

“Your offending was brutal in its callousness, with you laughing and filming the victims, mocking them and deriving entertainment from this.

“You fundamentally damaged the twilight years of your victims, with one victim almost driven to the point of suicide.”

North Yorkshire County Council’s executive member for trading standards, Cllr Derek Bastiman, said: “This has been a concerted and co-ordinated campaign of exploitation that has been conducted by the defendants involved.

“To take advantage of often vulnerable victims and dupe them out of their hard-earned savings is a despicable act in itself, but for David Mason to then lie about the symptoms for such a serious condition to try and escape justice beggars belief.

“I would like to pay tribute to the dedication and tireless work of the county council’s trading standards team as well as their colleagues in North Yorkshire Police and the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit to bring these offenders to justice.

“It sends out a clear message that whatever attempts are made to evade the justice system, we will continue to pursue offenders to ensure that they are held to account for their actions.”

The case had originally been scheduled to be heard in court in May 2020, but had to be initially postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which created a major backlog in the justice system nationally.

The trial for the conspiracy to defraud charges finally got under way on August 2 last year and ran for seven weeks, despite a loss of 10 days due to the defence counsel and one of the defendants contracting Covid-19.

On the first day of Mason’s cross-examination, he claimed he had become ill in the witness box and could not continue.

He was taken to hospital and tests were carried out for 10 days, although they proved to be inconclusive.

The judge was forced to abandon the trial after he had to discharge the jury due to the delays caused by Mason’s deceit.

Mason’s defence served an expert report to the court from a consultant neurologist, to state his alleged medical condition meant he would never be fit to stand trial.

But trading standards officers appointed their own consultant neurologist and neuro-radiologist in an attempt to glean the truth, although Mason persisted in displaying multiple false symptoms during examinations by them.

As a result of the reports compiled by the prosecution’s medical experts, which cast serious doubt on the authenticity of Mason’s alleged symptoms, trading standards officers liaised with police colleagues to undertake covert observations.

Evidence collected showed Mason was in fact running a second-hand car dealership in Thornaby, near Stockton, and had no symptoms of his alleged condition.

Mason was arrested at the garage at the end of March and then charged with perverting the course of justice.

The property’s closed circuit television system was also studied by trading standards officers and footage showed that Mason had showed no symptoms since the trial was abandoned.

Footage dates back to October last year, and includes days when Mason appeared to be healthy and fit at the garage on days which he had actually feigned symptoms only hours earlier in court.

The footage also showed that on the day Mason was examined by a consultant neurologist appointed by his defence, who reported he was unable to communicate, was having trouble with his mobility and would never be fit for a second trial, he had then been working later at the garage without any symptoms.

Mason appeared before Judge Jonathan Carroll, who had overseen the initial trial, on April 29 when he entered guilty pleas to both the perverting the course of justice charge and the original count of conspiracy to defraud.

He was remanded in custody ahead of the sentencing hearing today, after the conspiracy case against the three other defendants was resolved after they also entered guilty pleas during a series of court appearances.

During the hearing in April when Mason pleaded guilty, Judge Carroll condemned the defendant’s actions for the heartache he has caused the victims and disruption for jury members, as well as the financial cost to the court and the legal aid system.

Referring to Mason’s attempts to pervert the course of justice and prevent a second trial, Judge Carroll claimed “there is no more wanton example of dishonesty and disregard for the justice system”, with behaviour that was deemed so serious, calculated and prolonged.

The court heard that Mason created a series of bogus companies, Masterseal, Pro-Seal, Aquaseal and Bespoke Driveway Renovations, before sending Russell, Scott and Godley to cold-call householders to try to secure work.

Many of the victims had been previously targeted by others and were known to the offenders.

They pressured victims into agreeing for the work to be carried out, ranging from cleaning solar panels, to repairs to roofs and driveways.

The work was, however, of a poor standard and unnecessary, and some of the commissions were not even conducted at all.

Speaking outside the court, Det Supt Paul Greenwood, of the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit, said: “Our officers worked closely with partners from trading standards and North Yorkshire Police on this operation.

“I’m pleased that by working in partnership in this way, our efforts have paid off by bringing someone to justice when they clearly thought they were out of reach.”

Mason now also faces an investigation by the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Economic Crime Unit and proceedings to confiscate his assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act to potentially compensate the victims and their families.

Temporary Detective Superintendent Jon Naughton, of North Yorkshire Police, added: “We were delighted to work with trading standards to expose what was an audacious attempt by Mason to evade justice.

“It is particularly sickening that these criminals preyed on the most trusting people in our communities and exploited that trust for their own greed.

“Seeing the group being brought to justice for such deplorable crimes against some of the most vulnerable in society is very pleasing.

“My thanks go to our trading standards colleagues for their determination and diligence in bringing these people to justice.”